Nine candidates vie for five commissioner seats
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong and Chip Rowe
Garrison Fire District voters will go to the polls for the first time from 6 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 13 to elect five commissioners and decide whether to set aside $40,000 in a reserve fund. The election takes place at the firehouse at 1616 Route 9.
The Philipstown North Highlands Fire District at 504 Fishkill Road will hold its vote at the same time for two of its five seats. Johanna Rupp is seeking to return to the board for a five-year term and Amy Locitzer, who was appointed to fill a vacancy, for a one-year term. Both are running unopposed.
Nine candidates will appear on the Garrison Fire District ballot, including all five current commissioners (Sandra Bohl, David Brower, Joseph Mercurio, Nat Prentice and Rodney Tudor) and four challengers (Stanley Freilich, Joseph Fronio, Linda Lomonaco and Joseph Regele). The Garrison Volunteer Fire Company has endorsed four commissioners (excluding Prentice, who cast the lone vote against the district’s budget) and Fronio, a member of the fire company.
The terms of the newly elected commissioners begin Jan. 1 and will be staggered, with the candidate receiving the most votes serving a five-year term, the candidate receiving the second-highest vote total serving a four-year term, etc.
The Current asked each of the nine commissioner candidates by email to answer the same questions.
- Why do you want to serve as a Garrison Fire District commissioner?
- What skills or experience would you bring to the post? Are you a past or current member of the Garrison fire company or another company?
- What is your view of the 2017 budget?
- What is your recommendation to voters on the $40,000 reserve fund?
The limited voting hours for the first Garrison Fire District election has drawn criticism from the Philipstown Town Board. State law only requires districts to have polls open from 6 to 9 p.m. on the second Tuesday in December. Commissioners can extend those hours and provide absentee ballots for limited circumstances but must do so before the election details are announced about a month prior to the vote.
Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea promised at the Dec. 1 meeting of the town board to “do what we can” to get the hours extended and the polling place moved to a more central location, such as the Garrison School.
“It’s about as undemocratic a process as you could hope to have,” said Regele, a commissioner candidate and longtime critic of GVFC management practices, at the meeting. “We’re restricting the hours and putting it in a location that’s inconvenient and has the potential for being hostile.”
Councilors John Van Tassel and Michael Leonard both said they also had contacted the district about extending the voting hours. Leonard expressed concerns about senior citizens driving in the dark.
“To not have daytime hours might follow state law, but, I’m sorry, it is not acceptable,” he said.
Shea said the town board would continue to push for longer voting hours for the 2017 district election.
No vote on budget
Because the Garrison Fire District is in its first year, state law allows the commissioners to set a budget without the approval of voters. The five commissioners appointed by the Town of Philipstown when the district was created in 2014 approved expenditures Oct. 28 totaling $777,907 — a 27 percent increase — by a 3 to 1 vote, with Prentice dissenting and Mercurio absent. Future budgets will be restricted by the state tax cap.
Town board members have expressed dismay at the size of the budget, which commissioners justified by saying it made up for cuts by the board when it supervised the fire department through 2014. At the Dec. 1 town board meeting, Shea questioned the district’s financial practices, noting it will soon pay off large debts, freeing funds for other uses. “Where’s that money going to go?” he asked.